Wild beasts have always inhabited Rivers State’s political jungle. There was a time riverine/upland dichotomy was a serious factor in the state. It still is. From 1967 when the state was created, riverine politicians were at the helm until 1999. King Alfred Diete-Spiff, an Ijaw, was the first military administrator of the old Rivers State. He was in the saddle between 1967 and 1975. Another Ijaw, Chief Melford Okilo, was civilian governor from 1979 to 1983. Chief Rufus Ada George governed the state from 1992 to November 1993 when General Sani Abacha struck and sacked the civilian government of that era.

 

The upland people, comprising Ikwerre, Ogba and Ndoni, among others, had complained bitterly about what they perceived as the dominance of the riverine people in the governance of the state. It was not until 1996 when Bayelsa State was carved out of Rivers that Ijaw ceased to be the majority ethnic nationality in the state.

The birth of the Fourth Republic in 1999 saw the emergence of Dr. Peter Odili from Ndoni, an upland area, as the governor of Rivers State. From 1999 up until 2023, upland people were in charge in Rivers State. Odili navigated his way through this jungle and handed over to Rotimi Amaechi, his political godson. Their relationship developed some hiccups along the way. Amaechi, who is Ikwerre, also an upland area, handed over to his fellow Ikwerre man, Nyesom Wike, who governed between 2015 and 2023. Their relationship also became sour.

Today, the man at the helm is Siminalayi Fubara. He is from Opobo, a riverine area of the state. Outwardly, he looks dovish. He exhibited this trait at the beginning of the current crisis in the state. I pitied him when he presented a meek mien late last year in his quarrel with his godfather, Wike. At least, 10 commissioners that Wike planted in his administration tendered their resignation letters then.

In my intervention on this page, titled “Standing on Fubara’s mandate,” published on Monday, December 18, 2023, I advised the governor to stand firm and resolute and take full charge of affairs in his state. I wrote: “As the incumbent governor, he is the one holding the knife and the yam now. What Nigerians understand most in politics is money. That is what has worked for Tinubu. It has also worked for Senator Godswill Akpabio, the exponent of ‘what money cannot do, more money will do.’ That is what is working for Wike at the moment. Fubara should find a way to deploy this talisman to create his own political base and consolidate on it. The commissioners who resigned are not indispensable. They have resigned to irrelevance. Let Fubara quickly appoint his own men to take over their positions.”

The governor appeared to have ignored my advice then as he reabsorbed the commissioners into his cabinet. Perhaps, he deferred to President Bola Tinubu, who had intervened then.

The case of the 27 members of the House of Assembly who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) last December is a different ball game. These lawmakers are also said to be loyal to Wike. In October 2023, they plotted to remove Governor Fubara. Pronto, explosion and fire rocked the Assembly complex in Port Harcourt, the state capital. Fubara later sent bulldozers to demolish the complex in December 2023. He attributed his action to structural defects, which arose from the fire outbreak. 

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Recently, the 27 lawmakers gave another impeachment signal. The APC in the state egged them on. To kill a dog, you must give it a bad name. So, they accused the governor of dishonesty, refusal to abide by the presidential peace accord he signed in Abuja, and constant breach of the Constitution. But the lawmakers failed to convince neutral and discerning Nigerians that the governor committed gross misconduct in the performance of his functions to warrant applying Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution, which deals with the steps to be taken to remove a governor or a deputy governor from office.

Nevertheless, the man we thought was gentle has no room for niceties this time. Fubara went for the jugular of the renegade lawmakers. He moved the sitting of the Assembly to Government House, just as one of his four loyalists, Hon. Victor Oko-Jumbo, emerged as the factional Speaker. Oko-Jumbo represents Bonny Constituency in the Assembly. His faction believes it is the authentic one since members of the other faction defected from the PDP, on whose platform they were elected, to the APC. The erstwhile factional Speaker (now Chief of Staff to the governor), Mr. Edison Ehie, had declared the seats of the 27 lawmakers vacant following their defection in December 2023. He cited Section 109, sub-section 1(g) of the 1999 Constitution as a basis for his action. The other faction has Martin Amaewhule as Speaker. The battle is still taking shape and how it will end still wears a hat.

The governor has drawn his battle line though. “As it is today,” he recently asserted, “the jungle has matured.” He said the 27 legislators would cease to be lawmakers if he so wished. He gave a hint about setting up a judicial panel of enquiry to investigate the affairs of governance of the state before he assumed office, saying it had become clear to him that the disagreement would not be resolved amicably.

Though I support Fubara in his bid to clip the wings of an overbearing godfather, he was part of Wike’s administration. He was the accountant and must have known about most of the transactions that transpired then. His threats now to probe his predecessor is infantile and appears to be an exercise in futility. As someone who was privy to what Wike was doing then, why didn’t he cry out or resign? 

I suspect that some people may be beating the drums for the governor now. A delegation of top-ranking royal fathers and political leaders from Bayelsa State, led by former governor Henry Seriake Dickson, recently visited him. Ostensibly, the delegation came to preach peace. They also brought special fatherly greetings, prayers and best wishes of their father and national leader, Pa Edwin Clark. Dickson said he would be reporting the outcome of their visit to the elder statesman.

Well, Clark had rightly called on the Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, to call the 27 factional legislators to order and stop them from parading themselves as lawmakers. He cautioned against engendering anarchy in Rivers State. When this crisis raged last year, Clark also intervened, wondering why Wike who had denounced the godfather syndrome, was playing the antics of godfathers. He asked Tinubu to call the former governor to order.

But why will some godfathers not allow their godsons to concentrate on their given assignment? The answer is obvious. They want to continue to have influence. Some of them want to continue to control the resources of the state and dictate what happens from the background. Tinubu was able to do it in Lagos. Over a decade after he left office as governor, his political structure still controls what happens in that state.      

This is probably what Wike wants to replicate in Rivers. He has his political structures and would wish to continue to dictate what happens in the state. It is for strategic reasons. Many Nigerians witnessed what transpired in the last general election in Rivers State. The poll was an abracadabra of some sort. Rivers is a PDP state. But Wike has an axe to grind with his party. He supported the emergence of Fubara because he was his creation. But when it came to the presidential election, he performed some magic in Rivers. Tinubu ‘won’. For this, the President appointed him the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Rivers is an important state in Nigeria. Whatever happens there can have a spiral effect in the entire Niger Delta or even Nigeria. The political crisis called ‘Operation Wetie’ that erupted in the defunct Western Region in the early 1960s engendered the collapse of the First Republic in 1966. When the Niger Delta crisis raged, it was severe in Rivers State. Warlords emerged from different parts of the state and caused serious disruption in Nigeria’s oil business. It was the intervention of former President Umaru Yar’Adua that brought about some semblance of peace in the region.

Political gladiators in Nigeria should intervene now that the crisis in Rivers has not gone out of control. Although Tinubu had waded into the matter before, he should revisit the issue dispassionately and caution the combatants, no matter whose ox is gored. He should not consider who will snatch victory for him in the state in the 2027 election when taking a decision on this.

All leaders must be conscious of the verdict of history. Both Fubara and Wike, as well as their acolytes and loyalists, should caution themselves. The greatest thing our democracy needs now is peace and unity. Without it, we cannot navigate through the jungle of insecurity, poverty, hunger, acute hardship and general downturn in the lives of the citizens.    


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